In my last column, I gave my predictions for the first six of the top 12 mobile and wireless issues of 2008. This week, I'll wrap it up with the remainder. Again, these are in no particular order, except for the last one, anyway.
7. The last frontier: Battery and power management
No matter what your handheld can do, it can't do it with a dead battery. And as we demand that these devices do more, and faster, they suck down battery power faster than Uncle Ned downs eggnog while opening gifts. Progress in battery technology is much slower than in chips and such; chemistry is more difficult than physics. But there is progress to report. A combination of incremental improvements in lithium batteries, power-saving wireless protocols, chips that can be partially or completely turned off when not in use, and assorted engineering cleverness will enable us to make at least a little progress here. Don't expect wireless battery recharging in 2008, although this might be possible in five years or so. My advice: Always carry a fully charged spare battery with you when you travel.
8. Think ROI, not cost
I can't tell you how many projects I've seen derailed at the starting gate by a financial type who utters those three fateful words: It's too expensive. This is usually looking at the problem from the wrong perspective. It's not about cost, or at least cost alone, but rather return on investment. If you're improving the productivity of your field force far in excess of the costs involved in providing them with a mobile offering, that's a good investment.
The right way to look at this problem then is to ask a few questions: Is the cash flow manageable? Are the funds available, or what's the cost of obtaining them? Next, look at opportunity cost, the cost of the next best alternative or, more likely, do nothing. And finally, estimate ROI. If all of these look good, it's tough for a chief financial officer to refuse.
9. Web services are the answer
The iPhone brought the debate over local applications versus Web services to the forefront during 2007. The iPhone originally wasn't going to have an API for programmers, but it soon will. And yet, with a great browser, one might argue that local apps are so 2007. Both are needed, as it turns out, because there are some local tasks such as editing documents, working with a spreadsheet and preparing a presentation, that can be done offline, and wireless coverage isn't perfect. Wireless on airplanes, by the way, will make progress in 2008.
But there's no way that all of the information required for local applications, be it clip art or your personal files, can be carried with you at all times; there's just too much of it. And that holds for most other personal productivity and IT functions. Most of these also can't be done without access to the Web. So, strategically, the Web-services approach makes more sense.
More capable devices and more wireless coverage (again, via multiple technologies and networks) are also part of the solution. Again, expect good progress on both during 2008. But ultimately, it's all about content - Web content.
10. Sociology, not technology
Wireless can bring out the best, and the worst, in us. We can be more responsive, more productive and more involved. On the other hand, incessantly ringing cell phones, loud talkers, conversations that should be taken elsewhere and the use of cell phones while driving are among the downsides we've seen so far.
Part of the solution here is, of course, common sense and common courtesy, but lacking these, expect more on the legal front during 2008. Any driver involved in a motor vehicle collision (note I don't use the word "accident" here) while talking on a cell phone will find stiffer penalties. Safety (and peace and quiet) must trump convenience.
11. Product quality must improve
This is more of a request than a forecast, but far too many wireless and mobile (and many other) technology products make it to market before they're ready. Bugs are common, and the attitude of leaving it up to the user to download a fix (if that's even possible) after a purchase is far too pervasive.
We shouldn't be expected to debug products for companies that we've paid our hard-earned dollars, and it's time for product designers and builders to get it right before they put that fancy new gadget in the box. Sadly, I don't expect much progress here in the coming year, but I hope the vendors are listening regardless. Losing productivity while dealing with poor quality products affects ROI, as any CFO will tell you.
12. Open access and Net neutrality
I've saved the best, and biggest, for last. The most important stories of 2007 were the FCC requirement for open access in some of the 700-MHz spectrum range. Spectrum blocks to be auctioned shortly, and Verizon Wireless' stunning endorsement of open access (allowing any compatible device on their network, whether they sell it or not) and Net neutrality (agreeing to support any application, again, theirs or otherwise). Openness is the very foundation of modern networks, and now it will be the guiding principle for wireless going forward. This train is unstoppable, and all successful players are going to get on board - or find another game.
So forward we go to a bright and promising 2008. There's never a dull moment in our little corner of IT.
Craig J. Mathias is a principal at Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specialising in wireless networking and mobile computing. This article appeared in Computerworld.
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